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Music Makes It Stick

Musical notesSusan Banman Sileci, Everybody Up co-author, has a confession to make…

I have a confession to make: I forget to use music in my classroom. And then something happens that reminds me that using music to teach – not just to kids but to teenagers and adults, too – is one of the best ways to help them learn. It seems obvious, but I forget all the time. I use flashcards. I play games. I teach culture and history and I tell stories. But I forget to use music. Crazy, isn’t it?

Part of the problem is that I teach teenagers, between 12 and 16 years old. My eight students are children who live in one of the poorest areas of São Paulo, Brazil: Campo Limpo. They’re part of a special educational program that removed them from their overcrowded and undisciplined public schools and put them in a private school. I teach them once a week. Our classroom is in one of their homes, on a long table made of wooden planks set upon boxes, and the room’s one electrical outlet is on the other side of the room. The book we use, Oxford University Press’s Engage, is great. But Engage, like most books for teenagers, doesn’t come with a music program. As a result, I often forget how much these kids love music and how effective music can be.

I’m one of the authors of Everybody Up. This is a primary series which comes with an incredible music program and is entering the second year of its outstanding and award-winning Global Sing-Along. You wouldn’t think I’d need reminders to use music! But I do. Here’s a story for you.

Before the books were ready, I received a sample CD of some of the music. I had the CD in my car and was giving several of my teenage students a ride to school after our class. My students love Beyoncé and laugh at Justin Bieber (although they won’t let me change the radio station when he’s on), and one listens to Guns N’ Roses in preparation for his career as a rock star. Instead of turning on the radio, I decided to keep listening to my new CD. A song for the Starter level, Boys and Girls, came on. The music was obviously for very young children.

And my ‘too cool’ teenage students learned the words the first time, divided themselves into boys and girls and sang the song repeatedly. We drove through Campo Limpo with the windows down – past lines of laundry, small shacks and a large trash heap, through a park known for its drug dealers, over speed bumps and in front of the brick homes of one of their family members. ‘There’s my cousin,’ Camila laughed, and shouted, ‘Hi boy!’ out the window. The boy waved.

So, are we really too cool?

With these teenagers, I can use Everybody Up songs and they’re happy to learn them. They laugh. It’s kiddie music, but they always listen carefully, learn, and leave the class singing the song. I also like to use songs from the radio. We recently listened to Katy Perry’s Firework. It’s a song they know but never understood. They’re beginner students so I use a variety of techniques with songs, especially with complicated, non-ELT songs:

  • I don’t expect them to learn the entire song. That can be difficult, requires a lot of L1, and is certainly hard to remember five minutes after class is over.
  • I pick out a grammar point or a set of vocabulary. I pre-teach that language and give them the lyrics printed out with those parts missing. They listen, sometimes several times, to fill in the blanks with pre-taught material.
  • We talk about the general message of the song and listen one more time.
  • We talk about the cultural differences the song exposes. Elvis’s Blue Christmas surprised my students because something blue in Portuguese is happy. Thayza refused to believe me that ‘blue’ meant sad, but she’s beginning to accept the concept!
  • If there’s time, they can do post-listening activities like inventing dance routines, researching the singer or the song, or finding other songs with similar lyrics or messages.

I’ve made a personal goal of using a song – any song – at least once a month. I’m learning that if a song meets a need, students, no matter their age, don’t care if it’s a song for children, for Elvis fans, or for future rock musicians. There’s always something to be learned, and music makes it stick.

What about you? What’s your experience with mixing music styles in the classroom?

Visit our site for more information on Everybody Up and the Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013.

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The Young Explorer’s World of Nature

Everybody Up author Patrick Jackson rediscovers his favourite book from childhood after 35 years and asks if it can teach materials writers and young learner educators anything.

Young Explorer's World of NatureThe Young Explorer’s World of Nature

I’ve just found my favourite book from when I was a boy. It’s called The Young Explorer’s World of Nature and it was published in 1957 by Sampson Low, Marston. It’s nearly four decades since I last looked at it but every page comes right back to me like it was yesterday. I loved nature and spent a lot of time looking under rocks in the garden. What was it about The Young Explorer’s World of Nature that kept me reaching for it? What fascinated me about that one book so much? Is there anything in that fascination that will help me now as a teacher and materials writer?

The first thing to mention is the variety of the content.  This is an adventure that spans the whole world, from creatures living in a pond to an armadillo’s burrow, to giant redwoods, to the Kalahari Desert. Woodpeckers, beavers, bees and a bush pig, a bathyscaphe, people who live with herds, a frilled lizard, a wolverine, a vet examining a sick chimpanzee and a man milking a reindeer into a bowl all jostle for attention. This variety keeps you turning the pages. Likewise, lessons and materials should be varied and have plenty of surprises to keep our students on their toes.

Animals running from volcano

There is a sense of wonder throughout the book. Nature and our relationship with it is something to marvel at. These images were my connections to a wider world beyond suburban Dublin. Although most of the pages showed scenes beyond my imagination, some of them were about things closer to home: a cat with an injured paw, a toad in a half-buried flower pot or sycamore seeds that spin as they fall – all fascinated me as much as the Kirghiz chief riding along with a falcon on his arm. We should never forget that plenty of miracles are very close at hand and do our best to bring them into our classrooms.

Every single page of the book is full of action. A frog dives into the water, a musk ox tosses a wolf high into the air, a baboon bangs his chest and a puffin catches a rabbit’s foot just as it enters its burrow. Most memorably, a hippopotamus overturns an African canoe as two crocodiles watch intently from the bank, one showing its sharp teeth. As a rule, crocodiles should be kept out of the classroom but we should never forget how much children are verb-driven creatures and bring as many opportunities to do as we can into our teaching.

Wild buffalo

Every page is rich with detail. To think it was all done by hand without a computer in sight! There isn’t a photograph in the whole book either so this had to be made up for by the excitement of the drawings and the events they show. There’s plenty to take from that too. As we surround ourselves and our students with the digital and the instant we shouldn’t forget that something hand-made and personal usually has the value of a thousand clicks.

These images leave as many questions unanswered as they answer. Will the squirrel catch that dragonfly? Will the man who looks a bit like Charlie Chaplin get out of the pot-hole? What happened to that camel’s leg and can you really bandage them like that? Are Tasmanian Devils dangerous? Will I ever see cormorant fishermen or listen to lions roaring just beyond a thorn hedge?

This book comes from an age when people had fewer tools at their disposal and had to work harder to captivate the young explorer’s imagination. There is much for us to learn 55 years on as we do our work in a world utterly changed. We have so much power at our fingertips but do we appreciate that power enough? Do we make the most of it? Would we sometimes be better off with less?

I learnt a lot from my trip down memory lane. The Young Explorer’s World of Nature is full of variety, adventure, surprise and wonder, connections to a wider world, action and movement, fascinating detail, discovery and metamorphosis and I suppose, without realising it at the time, that’s why I loved it so much. All those happenings and all those questions both answered and unanswered!

Those are not just the ingredients of a great children’s book, they are the ingredients of great language teaching, the ingredients of beautiful and effective education and, ultimately, the ingredients of happy childhood. Think back to your favourite book when you were a child. What can you learn from it today?

Visit our site for more information on Everybody Up and the Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013.

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What a 2-min video clip can bring to us…

Receiving presents from Julie Gold and Devon Thagard

Annie Tsai, a teacher in Taiwan, writes about how music and the Everybody Up Global Sing-along changed the lives of her students last year. This piece originally appeared on Annie’s Corner on 28 January 2012.

This is by far one of the most extraordinary projects I’ve done. There has been a lot of joy and learning along the way with surprising struggles of school politics. Nevertheless, they are all good and they will nurture my future teaching life.

I felt the need to document what has happened over the past few weeks. One is to share how I started this amazing project with my kids, which many teachers might like to look to in hopes of noticing opportunities around them. The second purpose is, I’d like to share what I have learned from the event, about … people and life. Yes, I know it sounds bizarre to connect these with a competition, but surprisingly enough, this competition opens a window of observation.

Global Sing-along Competition

I couldn’t recall where I first learned about the competition nevertheless I remembered my first thought was, ‘Gee, this sounds like fun! How do I get involved?’ The competition, Global Sing-Along, was hosted by Oxford University Press (OUP). They were very clever and considerate to have all necessary teaching materials ready and downloadable online. To enter the contest, teachers are required to record kids singing from titles offered by OUP and upload the video clips to OUP’s YouTube channel. There were five songs to choose from and includes all the teaching materials such as mp3, lyrics and accompanying MTV.

The first song couldn’t be simpler. The lyrics contain only two words, ‘everybody’ and ‘up’. Regardless of how some may see the song as too easy for any elementary level kids, it is a perfect test of how we teachers can expand and extend from a pure base. In daily school life, children climb up the monkey bars, they swing up high and low, they do a lot of rope jumping, they look up skyward to observe things … these child-like activities supply a rich foundation for extensive teaching moments.

I asked my 3rd graders which part of our campus they would like to showcase if they were to introduce our school to children from other parts of the world. They nominated 7 areas and I assigned each class to do an MTV for each spot. The video shooting took only one session and they just loved learning outside of the classroom.

We actually did all 5 songs and I did something extra with another song ‘I like chicken’. You can take a look at the I Like Chicken Lesson Plan.
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The universal benefits of songs as teaching tools

Children singing in classSongs are a great way for children to learn English. In this post, Devon Thagard, co-owner of Super Simple Learning and songwriter for the new Primary level course, Everybody Up, explores the benefits of using songs in class.

This past year, I had the great pleasure to be involved in the Everybody Up Global Sing-along as one of the songwriters, a contest judge, and a workshop leader. The entire experience reinforced and reminded me of the strong feelings I have about 1) the power of songs in the classroom, and 2) the importance of learning from other teachers.

The Global Sing-along received over 70 entries from countries all over the world. When you see classrooms around the world all enjoying singing the same songs, it really brings home the universal benefits of songs as teaching tools. Songs allow all ages to participate and learn at their levels. In the Global Sing-along videos, we see pre-schoolers and kindergartners (like these great students from Ukraine) doing some very simple dancing, picking up a few words, and getting a feel for the rhythm. For very young students who are just beginning to learn English, songs provide a fun, welcoming way to get that oh-so-valuable input, and gestures and dancing help them understand and internalize the meaning.

Older and more advanced students are able go beyond the basics and to express their creativity with songs. As students move into higher grades, they may be a little more reluctant to sing and dance as they did in kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy learning with songs, and the benefits of the repeated exposure to comprehensible input continue. At all ages, students are learning vocabulary, pronunciation, intonation, the rhythm of the language, listening skills, and more. Here are some great examples from Thailand, Korea, Turkey and France.

It’s also fantastic to be able to visit our fellow teachers’ classrooms around the world through video. Just having the chance to see how the classrooms are arranged and decorated sparks a lot of great ideas, but being able to see how teachers are using dance, crafts, instruments, and drama together with songs is really inspiring. If you haven’t already, browse the playlist of Global Sing-along videos. I’m sure you’ll come away from it with several great ideas for your classroom.

How do you use songs in your classes?

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Teaching values is nothing new!

Having given us some tips for teaching values in the classroom, Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course Everybody Up, now considers whether this is a new phenomenon or not.

EFL teachers, especially those who teach young learners, know instinctively that they’re standing in front of a group of kids teaching more than English. One of those things is values – how to behave at school, at home and out in the community.

I recently spent some time online preparing for a presentation on teaching values and found a few sites expressing worry about this generation of children “The world is on the verge of collapse,” the sites suggest. “What will become of the world with kids like these in it?” Some sites say the biggest problem is video games. Others say it’s divorce. Others blame today’s social woes on bad teachers, rap music, reality TV, the Internet, cell phones and political corruption. If you believe those sites, we’re in trouble.

But then I look back on my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. I remember a lot of talk from the adults around me about how terrible my generation would turn out. There were drugs everywhere. There were rock festivals, disco music, political scandals, race riots, girls wearing boys’ clothes and guys with long hair. Every night we watched the Vietnam War on the news and mourned the assassination of our leaders, from President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t an easy time either.

I asked my mother about her generation. For kids of the 1950s, listening to Elvis Presley was the end of the world to the adults around her. Before that, moving from the farm to the city was trouble. Even Plato and Socrates worried about their own disrespectful kids and teenagers.

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